JUNE 29, 2009 3:10PM

Amanda Palmer's Twitter riches -- and journalism

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By King Kaufman There's a parallel universe, Future of Journalism fans, where they gab about the future of music, and in that world they're talking about all the money Amanda Palmer made recently on Twitter.

Palmer is a singer, formerly with a band called the Dresden Dolls, who enjoys a healthy cult following. Last week she wrote to the music-industry Web site the Lefsetz Letter to describe how she had grossed $19,000 in 10 hours on Twitter. She also posted the letter on her own wildly entertaining blog.

This will get back to journalism. I promise. Also: There's swearing.

Palmer is an enthusiastic tweeter who has used the service to gather crowds in the hundreds for spontaneous shows at parks and beaches. She writes that one Friday night in May she joked to her 30,000 followers, "i hereby call THE LOSERS OF FRIDAY NIGHT ON THEIR COMPUTERS to ORDER, motherfucker." The losers hung out online, joked with each other and became a top trending hashtag. Palmer designed a T-shirt with a Sharpie, had her Web designer create a site and sold, over the next few days, more than 400 shirts at $25 each for a gross of $11,000.

A few days later, Palmer writes, she and her assistant hosted a webcast auction during which Palmer sang songs and sold mementos and junk from her apartment, as well as individually chewed (!) and signed postcards. The haul: $6,000.

And a few days after that, Palmer announced a free gig at a recording studio, open to the first 200 people who responded. At the show, she asked for donations and took in $2,200, she writes, of which she gave $400 to the studio.

Throughout the letter/blog post, Palmer keeps returning to variations on this summing up:


total made on twitter in two hours = $11,000.
total made from my huge-ass ben-folds produced-major-label solo album this year = $0

So what does this have to do with the Future of Journalism?

The big question in both journalism and music these days is how to make it pay. The bottom has fallen out of the advertising market for journalism, out of the disc-selling market for music.

What Palmer's doing represents what could be a big part of the answer for both: Draw a crowd, create a community, and then sell that community the things it wants. At Techdirt, one of the places where they're talking about this, honcho Mike Masnick calls this "CWF + RTB = $$$."

That is, connect with fans and give them a reason to buy. Here's Masnick giving a presentation on how Trent Reznor's use of that formula represents, in Masnick's view, the future of the music industry.

For a musician like Palmer, giving the audience something to buy means access, closeness, personalized encounters, possibly personalized music. And stuff, mementos, merchandise. Some of it -- individually chewed postcards! -- personalized. And a little music too.

Journalists are only starting to realize this, but we've long been in the business of gathering a crowd and selling them things. In the past, journalism has acted as the middleman, the agent for the people -- advertisers -- who are selling things to the crowd. That's not enough to pay the bills anymore, so we have to find other things to sell, just as musicians have had to.

What things? I'm gratified to be able to answer promptly: I don't know. Possibly specialized reporting. Maybe sponsoring events.

In both cases, it's a matter of realizing what you're in the business of selling. Amanda Palmer, it turns out, isn't in the business of selling music so much as she's in the business of selling the experience of being a fan of Amanda Palmer's music. If she's creative enough -- and it looks like she is -- she'll be able to think of as many ways to do that as there are Friday nights.

The going rate for journalism in the age of the Internet -- free -- has made it clear to those of us in the journalism business who didn't already know it that we aren't in the business of selling the news and commentary we produce. So what business are we in?

Let's just say that whoever gets that question right will win a prize.

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a twitterlike financial epiphany!
Living it right here with the ad rollout:

Draw crowd--check, with OS alpha and beta
Create a community--check! It almost creates itself!
Sell that community--check!

Once you've farmed your people into straight little rows, start a-harvestin!
Tough questions, King. I'm glad to see the emphasis you placed on Palmer's selling of herself, basically. It's hard to imagine, say, a shy musician who works in the studio and never tours being able to pull off the same thing. And if we move from entertainment to journalism, that idea becomes an even worse fit--people would start paying attention to and trusting the news to the extent that they pay attention to and trust the person who's presenting it. This has always been a part of TV journalism, I think (with superstar anchor-people being one result), and some news consumers pay attention to sources ("Oh, this story is from Judith Miller..."), but I don't think personality-driven news can work that well overall.
must ... get ... drunken krugman image ... out of brain ...
Oops--I see on re-reading that you actually didn't suggest what I was riffing on. Sorry about that. I was just chasing my own ideas, I guess.
I know. It's radical. But what if we sold...our in depth understanding of a subject which we have learned about through years of writing. (a.k.a: books.)

Not as quick a dump as chewed up post cards, I know. But it's the one thing you can't actually put on twitter. And so it becomes valuable because only you, as an actual authority on a subject, can sell it, and it can only be sold in that form.

At the same time if you cultivate a blog and twitter presence it can help you sell those long term projects when you complete them. Versus having to hit the road and go on lame talk shows with people who have never read your book.

Read last week's New Yorker article on Nora Roberts. I wouldn't want to be a best selling romance writer. But, wow, she works her ass off being a web presence for her fans, and the millions of dollars in book sales are pretty solid testament to the pay offs for that kind of networking.
I like the idea of "Specialized Reporting" What that looks like for me is asking the questions we want and insisting on the answers. Maybe we'll pay you one price to ask it, and a bigger amount if you keep insisting until you get the answer. Might make a difference in recreating an adversarial fourth estate again.
Brian and Amanda (Dresden Dolls) have always done well with a Grass Roots approach. I remember covering the streets in St. Louis with them, hanging posters everywhere for their gig at a TINY club and watching them play to a SRO crowd. It's about buzz, which is how musicians have to sell themselves now.
The idea of getting "signed" anymore has no appeal to most musicians I know simply because you fare better on your own, assuming you've been able to create a solid fan base and keep that "buzz" going.
On the journalism side, I've been trying to convince my step-son that he really wants to study mass-media, where he might actually be able to get a job, instead of journalism. It breaks my heart, because I was once a journalism major, but you just can't make a living at it (not that you really ever could... just ask most of my classmates!).
Okay. I think everyone here needs to take a deep breath and go read Malcolm Gladwell's review of Chris Anderson's free. About to come out in the New Yorker.

We may be going though what seems like a glorious time for readers, and an apocalyptic time for newspapers and journalists. But I don't see this lasting. Google is not making the kind of money it needs to make. Youtube is critically in the red.

Distribution of information is always going to be expensive in the end. We may have a bunch of new drug dealers in the neighborhood who are giving it away for free, but they're starting to feel the pinch, and those low, low prices are not going to last forever.

Gladwell makes a great analogy with electricity and drugs. These things by themselves don't actually cost a lot, but the cost of distributing and generating these things are phenomenal.

Same thing with high quality info. New York Times isn't doing so hot. Wall Street Journal, which is not giving it away for free is doing okay. Networks are suffering. Premium cable is doing better.

If you guys want to chew the corner of postcards go ahead. I'm just going to keep writing and wait out this transitional period.
perhaps the future of pop entertainment as well?!
Palmer used Twitter etc., to give her fans intimate concerts and personalized swag, and the artist made very good money doing so. Who wouldn't rather get a tweet to join their favorite musician or comedian at a local bar for open mike night, than shell out hundreds of bucks to stand at the back of a stadium aand watch the latest manufactured pop tart on the jumbotron?
I have to point out that Palmer's relationship with prominent writer (and more prominent Twitterer) Neil Gaiman helped her get attention. Helped a lot, I'd say.
I appreciate the perspective but Amanda is not getting rich. The tongue and cheek is kinda cute but it is not the same thing. Mostly you are just missing the point.

First Journalist are getting paid and salaries are getting better all the time. The median salary has increased 39.3% from 1991 to 2001. Currently, Salary Wizard says a Senior Reporter's median income is 62K a year. I do not think recording artists can say the same.

Second no other artist besides musicians are treated like share croppers. No author would get a book deal like Amanda's record deal. Consider the last time a painter sold 240,000 prints and had only a few deposit slips to live off of.

The average Journalist in America will probably make more money in 5 years than Miss Palmer will make after selling over 250k records. She is not just a cult artist nor is she even close to the Median. Her sophomore album debuted at #42 on Billboard. She makes the money on twitter so she can do a little more than survive and have enough to fund some of her artistic ideas that the labels will not.

When she says she makes zero off her new album guess how much money the record label made off of her. You can be sure it will be more than she ever makes on twitter. The record label had no real expenses or even risks with a third album by an established and loved MTV artist. It is hard to fathom how this story can be even more preposterous.

If we were to really follow your logic. The future of the media is to pay writers less than minimum wage and watch the CEO's pocket all the profit. Next we send the writers on the road with little to no support and make them sell the articles personally. Then deduct even more from their meager salaries if they do not sell millions. Finally they would top it all off with constant threats to fire the writers if they can not do better than selling a few hundred thousand articles. Of course the company may choose to distributes some of the stories to a couple of outlets while handsomely paying a middle man cause paying them directly is illegal. The writers would not be allowed to talk to the middleman or the outlets directly. After a certain threshold is met than the writer could have maybe 6% of the profits from distribution. They might even give them 12% if they worked in the print shop. 15% if they also did the editing but no more than that.

Of course their will be a few special writers who do not actually have to write anything. They will have their articles written for them. They have been groomed since they were children so they do exactly what they are told. These top .01% of the writers will make millions alongside the CEO's while every one else thinks how great it is to be a writer.

Note: I didn't even bring up TV Anchors and their ridiculous salaries.
What journalism can do to be profitable - tell the truth. Use critical thinking skills. Be thorough. I.e. be like Glenn Greenwald, Digby, Charlie Savage, Dan Froomkin, etc. Be the opposite of the Washington Post. That is why I'm a Salon Premium member. (Don't tell them, but I'd be willing to pay double what I paid for a 2-year subscription).
Sun Lao. I'm not sure your analogies are fair. You can't compare indie rock musicians to senior reporters. A better comparison would be the freelancers. Senior reporters are professionals with unionized positions. Kind of like orchestra members, or faculty in a music department. They have steady income, usually because they have the education and experience to back it up.
Freelancers who've never worked for newspapers are not making a median 62K, my friend. And news anchors didn't get their gig by sitting around jamming with their college roomates. Not in this day and age. The salaries have gone up because the work has become professionalized, and the qualifitications have become more demanding.
Neil Gaiman tweets? There might be a reason to get an account.
The music business is a thing unto itself. If you are an independent artist without a recording contract you can do things to market yourself. Things you could never do before. Ani DeFranco was a trendsetter in this area.
As for journalists they are a dying breed. I live in Denver and I used to get The Rocky Mountain News. That paper folded so now I am stuck with the Denver Post. I hate that paper. I miss the Rocky. The Rocky had in depth stories about local issues and national issues. There was a personal touch. The Post is just Blah, Blah, Blah. Journalism needs journalists and reporters not what we have now that is passing for God knows what. Reporters need to dig deep and report.
@Juliet & @Marcia

Is it obvious that this article set me off?

The original article was making the point that since Amanda can make money using twitter, journalism should also be able to find creative ways to make money.

That line of thought is totally missing the point of what it means when Amanda said;


Amanda doesn't do it cause she is trying to remake a dying industry. She is doing it to survive cause she is a SHARE CROPPER! It seems you do not consider her a legitimate successful artist because she does not have some unknown measurement that sounds like a paparazzi following like a manufactured Britney.

Calling Amanda an indie artist and then comparing her to a free lancer is naive She certainly started off as DIY in the 90's but that was a long time ago. The industry has always allowed a few DIY artists every decade and she was lucky enough to survive the process. However, now she is a cog in the wheel of the big four who get rich off her free labor. Do you think the money from the selling of the 30,0000 albums is missing? 30K times $14 (Amazon price) = $420,000.

That is why it is absoulutely valid to say if Senior journalists were forced to sign employment contracts similar to Amanda's Major Record Label deal, they would find creative ways to survive or be forced to quit their jobs. They wouldn't do it because they are revolutionary, they would do it because they are not paid a living wage.

Senior Reporters are not more legititmate because of their education and experience it is a lot easier to get a degree and work a 9/5 job than it is to become adept at playing a musical instrument, learn the craft of writing music, word smithing, singing and then learn how to entertain 10-50,000 people. Besides, I would not want to compare the education resume of most median senior reporters to Amandas drummer Brian. He is brilliant, well educated, expieranced and is also an educator. I am sure he of course made less money than Amanda because he does not have song writing credits for their Duo work.

Mentioning classical musicians as a high mark is also misplaced. Most classical musicians, though reasonably adept at their craft are only allowed to play music written hundreds of years ago, that someone else picked, and rarely have to record or write anything. Compare the amount of work someone like Amanda does to support her craft. First she actually writes her own words and music that people want to listen too without it being spoon fed to them by the big 4. Than she has to tour much more than any classical musician and play a lot more shows. She records her own albums makes videos and has to promote them. For all of this what is she paid?


A classical musician has to rehearse by themselves every day and play a few times a month with a large group. When your part of a union and you do not have to worry about food, clothing and shelter you can find the time to do that. Big money months are of course for things like Nut Cracker. Things most kids can learn to play.

The fact that classical musicians are allowed to participate in a union does not make them more legitimate. It makes them not on the radar of the big four who would never allow such a thing for their artists. Classical unions are considered sole less institutions by most musicians They also do not generate as much revenue as Major Label artists like Amanda does even though they make much less.

Of course there are more DIY ways today. This makes more noise than it does help. I am glad De Franco was able to create her own label and her fans supported her. It is super ultra rare and not a viable option for most artists. That is why very few have done it since in the last 30 years.

We are not talking about the stoned college jam bands that went to school with the writers. We are talking about real artists who work harder than any senior journalist making much less and will mostly fail because their life will be sucked out of them for the profit of their employers.
Sun -- I agree with your view of musicians as sharecroppers in the business, but I wouldn't be so fast to assume that any record company is getting rich off of her solo record. From I understand, the thing took a year to record and probably had several engineers on the payroll, not to mention a fairly high-powered promotional campaign and a video for every single song. I obviously don't have the budget for all this, so maybe she went elsewhere for the dough to make the videos, but typically a label fronts for all of that and recoups it out of sales before either the artist or the label ever sees any money.

I know that there was a pretty public spat between her and the record label about the way she looked in one of the videos ("Leeds?") for the new one or something? Anyway, I wouldn't say that not making money off of 30,000 record sales is much of a news flash. Steve Albini was warning about the economics of record contracts 15 years ago...

Why do you believe Palmer? Amanda Palmer is a pathological narcissist who will do anything to receive attention. She is the modern version of a Circus Geek. She strips down, posts pictures of her body parts or herself naked on a beach, reports to the press that her record company said she was "Fat," (a more blog-worthy sound-bite than the fact her record didn't sell) and produces a self-published vanity book with Gaiman that is virtually snuff/mutilation porn. If she even made the money she claims, and that your article promotes without evidence, then how long can she keep up the exploitation of her fans? Any journalist or artist who creates a sound body of work based on skill, talent, artistry and meticulous craftsmanship, will build an audience over time. Idiots like Palmer who sell their underwear online are flavor of the week exploitation merchants and over time you will see a steady, downward arc as their audience grows up and moves on to follow artists who bothered to learn their craft.